I just finished my first draft and I am new to writing. I'm currently researching how to self-edit a novel and came across beta readers. When should I bring in beta readers? After second draft and structural editing, or after line-editing? Or are beta readers even necessary?
Lots of people handle this differently, so I can only give you my experience. I have had trouble getting good beta readers, so I had some at several different stages of writing.
After you have finished your first draft, you need to go through and re-evaluate your story to determine if things even make sense to yourself. Sometimes things changed in the story as you went along and the facts at the beginning don't match those in the middle or end. I found this was a great chance to integrate the elements of my story, dropping references to the later parts of the book into the beginning, because you didn't know when you wrote the beginning exactly how the later parts would turn out. Did something happen that you never explained? are there sub-plots you dropped or forgot about as you went along? Fix these things so it makes sense.
You need to fix as much of the technical issues (like spelling) as you can on your own, and then you can look at a few trusted beta readers to analyze content and story line. If you need someone before that, get a mentor or a writer's group to help analyze the material. It's not a beta reader's place to edit, but if they see things it's nice of them to let you know. You don't need to fix every mistake before beta, but if it's too bad, the story won't be readable and some of the mistakes may lead people to misunderstand things like who is speaking or what your real intent was. They may quit reading because it's so hard to follow what you're saying. If you are being honest with your beta readers, you may make structural changes in your story to fix issues they bring up, so late beta readers will mean different things than earlier ones.
I did a lot of online searches about the subject and followed the advice there. Here are a couple of sites:
The ideal time is after you have found and fixed all the issues you can do on your own, and before you are thoroughly sick of the story and can't bring yourself to fix the issues they bring up.
I recommend after the structural edit, because it's hardly worth it to fix every sentence when you might have jettison a large number of them because the beta readers pointed out structural flaws.